High Tunnel Gantry System with Transport Cart and Automated Row Cover System to Assist Small Farm Production, Scalability, and Profitability

Project Overview

ONE21-381
Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2021: $29,944.00
Projected End Date: 03/01/2023
Grant Recipient: Rigorous
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:

Commodities

  • Vegetables: cucurbits, eggplant, greens (leafy), greens (lettuces), peppers, tomatoes

Practices

  • Crop Production: greenhouses, high tunnels or hoop houses, row covers (for season extension)
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, technical assistance, workshop

    Proposal abstract:

    High tunnel gantry systems can significantly reduce repetitive, laborious and non-creative tasks, enabling small farms to scale, innovate, and improve profits. Large-scale greenhouses benefit from automated gantry systems, however, no equivalent systems exist for smaller farms.   

    We will design an open-source gantry system specifically for high tunnels, empowering the small farm to enact efficiencies currently only seen in large greenhouses. Our designs account for size, weight and cost limitations necessary for high tunnels.

    We will design a Transport Cart and Automated Row Cover System (ARCS) to show that a simple rail and trolley system can add significant value to small farms while providing a path to advanced automation. The Transport Cart is a mechanical device to help farmers move items through high tunnels. The same rail design is used for the ARCS to automatically manage row cover. Both implements will improve efficiency and reduce the physical requirements on small farms.  Our design can expand to develop a new class of farm tools.

    We will research its effectiveness with two labor studies, one for each implement. We will measure labor time and physical requirements in comparable production areas, with and without the high tunnel gantry.

    We will educate the community during the design, build and research phases to assist with the adoption of the technology.  We will create a knowledge base for high tunnel gantry system designs allowing future innovation.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project seeks to reduce repetitive and non-creative tasks through the use of an open-source High Tunnel Gantry System (HTGS) with two implements; a Transport Cart and Automated Row Cover System (ARCS).  

    1. Design.  We will develop a HTGS design plan.  The design will include the rail, toolbar, trolley car, Transport Cart, and ARCS.  We will engage farmers during the design process to inform the design and educate farms on design considerations.
    2. Build & Evaluate.  We will construct a fully functional HTGS.  We evaluate the implements for functionality, ease of construction, and ease of use. We will create videos of the installation and testing process to assist other farms adopting the system.
    3. Research. We will quantify the labor savings of the Transport Cart and ARCS through two labor studies. We will collect labor data during peak season and compare it to a similar control environment.  We will write a report detailing our findings.
    4. Education & Adoption. We will publish the designs, reports, and videos on our website and open-source tool design website, farmhack.org. We will host two on-farm workshops and publish demonstration videos.  We will present the research findings, use-cases, installation, and best practices at the 2022 NOFA-VT and NEFVC conferences.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.